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Thread: How do I know if a design-based or policy-based degree program is best for me?

  1. #1

    How do I know if a design-based or policy-based degree program is best for me?

    So I'm looking at various grad programs.........and I'm starting to think that it might not be such a good idea to do a policy-based program. Here's why -

    1) I used to be a political science major........i still take poly sci classes now because I've made it my minor......I really don't like studying social sciences anymore. Policy discussions interest me, and yet I really don't think I want to spend my life's work on policy work. It's one big cluster****.......people are crazy, and I'm really starting to think that planning may not be for me.......because I'm not so sure I want to work with people and the "community" so much anymore. I find myself growing more and more cynical about society and wanting to have less and less to do with "trying to save the world", i.e. engaging myself in policy work.

    On the other hand, I had a design/studio class last semester........yes, it was basic but it was fun! Hands-on planning..............our semester project was to design a subdivision. I enjoyed that more than i've enjoyed a lot of things in my planning courses. I think I want to pursue a career in urban design as opposed to something policy-based like "urban studies". But with that being said, I have never taken any math classes beyond pre-Cal (unless you consider statistics to be higher-level math)..........I'm not too wild about doing a whole of math and technical stuff either, but........I really think design would be interesting and I just don't want to do any kind of social planning crap.

    I'm a huge advocate of increasing green space in our cities and incorporating as much nature into urban areas as possible, so a Master's in Landscape Architecture seems to be a good fit at this point. But my question is, how technical is it? How difficult would it be to pursue such a program when my college education has almost completely consisted of liberal arts studies, with only a handful of technical classes (a studio class here, a GIS class there)? Any help would be appreciated..........thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Jazzman,
    I don't know much about the MLA but i know that since you have little to know experience in labs or design it might be a little bit long (additional year or 2). There are some grad schools out there that offer a M.S. in planning that offer either a policy track or design track or combo of the two. The Cal Poly's (Both pomona and san luis obispo) offers this type of hands on, design studios you desire with a sprinkling of policy and other issues you need to know to make the designs work.

    As far as working with community's, as designers we cannot work in a vacuum. We need the Community's support when we envision long lasting, good design in the planning realm. So as much as you are beginning to despise people, remember, it is your designs that will ultimately be judged by the community, and thus you want to obtain as much input as possible to achieve a design that the community can welcome into their neighborhood.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    Jazzman,
    I don't know much about the MLA but i know that since you have little to know experience in labs or design it might be a little bit long (additional year or 2). There are some grad schools out there that offer a M.S. in planning that offer either a policy track or design track or combo of the two. The Cal Poly's (Both pomona and san luis obispo) offers this type of hands on, design studios you desire with a sprinkling of policy and other issues you need to know to make the designs work.

    As far as working with community's, as designers we cannot work in a vacuum. We need the Community's support when we envision long lasting, good design in the planning realm. So as much as you are beginning to despise people, remember, it is your designs that will ultimately be judged by the community, and thus you want to obtain as much input as possible to achieve a design that the community can welcome into their neighborhood.


    Yeah I understand. Guess I was just feeling a bit cynical today, dunno why, but yeah............I just know I don't want to do social planning/community development. That will no longer be my direct focus...........I like doing design work, that's why I wanted to focus on transportation planning in grad school............I care about the environment so I want to incorporate that into my education and my career as well. But by no means do I plan on trying to become the next Jane Jacobs. The next Frederick Law Olmstead, perhaps. If I can make the places where we live better by making them more aesthetically pleasing and environmentally sustainable, I think I will acheived a lot. But I'm not trying to save society from its ills. A lot of people go into planning for that reason it seems. At my school, it seems like everybody wants to do housing/community development. I have no interest in that, and so I feel a bit alienated.

    And yes, I know what you're talking about as far as extra time is concerned. The University of Virginia, for example, offers a M.L.A. program that is 2 years long for those with architecture or engineering backgrounds, and 3 years long for those with liberal arts backgrounds, plus an 8-week introductory program the summer before you begin the grad program.

    I just think design sounds like more fun than dealing with this policy-based stuff that seems to be one never-ending, ideological shouting match. Bah, humbug.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jazzman View post

    I just think design sounds like more fun than dealing with this policy-based stuff that seems to be one never-ending, ideological shouting match.
    Oh it is, trust me. As a planner with a design background, one of the greatest moments in my professional life was when my wife's parents moved into this new neighborhood on the first day they met me and were like "have you been here before, man they really did a good job designing this neighborhood" and i responded back, "i know, i helped design it "
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    I did a few site design projects in school. One of these projects was working with 4 other classmates to design a 100 acre PUD (300 units single family, 50,000 SF commerical, 50,000 SF senior housing, 200 apartment units, and 200 townhomes. You can see the original work here at:

    http://www.land8lounge.com/photo/copper-slough-pud-see

    Just click on the image to zoom in. The design was originally rendered in colored pencil back in 2003. I will admit that I should have had a steadier hand when rendering. I think I have improved since then.

    The original project was conceptual followed by design development. Here's the shocker: I am still working on this project as part of my portfolio in 2009 (years after it was originally designed)!! In 2007 I sent the rendering to a professional scanner, dropped the drawing into AutoCAD and started tracing over the top of the scaled image. Now I have 100% construction documents (CDs) drawn down to the nearest back of curb. As an urban designer/land use planner, I work alongside landscape architects everyday and I also do landscape plan review, so I also designed a planting plan for the entire 100 acres using my knowledge of plant material. The following are design development sheets I did in my own free time this past year. I used these as part of my portfolio when I visited University of Georgia's MLA program. The CDs are even more detailed with dimensions, plant lists, elevations, notes, details, and specs (again, all information I picked up on the job).

    http://www.land8lounge.com/photo/2025679:Photo:21729
    http://www.land8lounge.com/photo/202...8?context=user
    http://www.land8lounge.com/photo/202...6?context=user
    http://www.land8lounge.com/photo/202...5?context=user

    The final step of the on-going college project is transferring the AutoCAD file into Sketchup. This has to be done in segments since moving around a 3D project takes a lot of ram. The following four images show the type of design style I will be using for the PUD. These are actually separate projects that I have done at my full-time job using my past experience as an independently-contracted sketchup illustrator.

    http://www.land8lounge.com/photo/cch...1?context=user
    http://www.land8lounge.com/photo/cch...2?context=user
    http://www.land8lounge.com/photo/cch...1?context=user
    http://www.land8lounge.com/photo/cch...2?context=user

    I will also be doing architectural pattern books for 25 model homes and 8 custom-built homes. I am bringing in my past studio experience as an architecture student. The floor plans will be done in Revit and then the exterior shots will be in Sketchup. The final pattern book will be done in InDesign.

    This project was a wonderful learning experience for me, and I am still adding new and different elements to the final design, so I think I have come full circle. I think this will help me when I enroll in a graduate landscape architecture program.

    It sounds like you might have the same interests with site design as I had. You don't need to have a design degree to do conceptual site design or illustration, but I think you really need to have a creative style to your projects and a willingness to learn complex programs like AutoCAD, Photoshop, Sketchup, Illustrator, etc as well as draw by hand.

    Landscape architecture and architecture are very technical fields. Most landscape architects don't have to know as much advanced math like calculus for architects or statistics for planners (the notable exception would be advanced algebra and geometry for site grading). As Raf said, don't throw out the policy and analysis and non-design work. I think alot of these tasks go hand in hand with design. If anything it will make you stand out from the pack of other designers if you can juggle design, non-design, and research projects.

    Hope this helps-
    Last edited by nrschmid; 23 Jan 2009 at 5:40 PM.
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    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

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